Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Bowling for Convictions (and other misguided morale makers) [UPDATED]

Mark Bennett's Defending People did a post last night on a recent memo from HCDA's Misdemeanor Chief John Jordan to the younger prosecutors in Misdemeanor offering them incentives for going to trial.  In it, Mark rightfully points out that morale over at the D.A.'s Office must be "in the basement" for John to be offering a "fratboy game" that encourages the less-senior ADAs to go to trial more often (and win) for such prizes as the opportunity to sit on big felony cases or get a Friday afternoon off for things like bowling.  Mark (also rightfully) points out that this type of incentive program seems to fly in the face of the seriousness of a person being charged with a crime.

Do we really want a prosecutor in closing argument to be telling the jury:  "Ladies and Gentlemen, by convicting Mr. McCann for assaulting Mr. Fickman, not only will you be sending a message that violence is not acceptable in our community, you will also be assuring that I can spend all afternoon at Ninfa's next Friday with my friends." ?

The incentive program outlined in John's e-mail was not a well thought-out idea.  Putting it in an e-mail was also not a well-thought-out idea.

But, you can't blame John Jordan for what he was trying to accomplish with it -- trial stats are down at the D.A.'s Office and morale is in the toilet.

When addressing the trial numbers,  I'm not talking about the win-loss ratio.  I'm talking about trials in general.  From one report I received, the stats show that in 2008 (the last pre-Lykos year at the D.A.'s Office) there were 436 felony jury trials tried.  In 2010, that number of jury trials had shrunk to 248.  Lykos will already have a tough time explaining to her Republican cronies in the 2012 primary why she more or less legalized crack pipes and created lighter sentences for DWI, but now she's going to have to explain statistics!  God knows how much politicians love their statistics.

From a political standpoint, the Office is going to want to show that they have more prosecutors trying cases.  Hence, an incentive program trying to get the prosecutors to trial more.

Regarding the morale issue, I'm glad to see John doing what he can to make the Office a more pleasant place to work -- even though the execution of said plan was flawed.  John and I started in the same class and back then, the morale was very high.

Lykos has systematically destroyed the morale through a series of pointless personnel and policy changes.  As I've pointed out in the past, that's going to bite her in the ass when she's in the middle of a hiring-freeze and can't replace the droves of prosecutors who leave because the job just isn't fun anymore.

So, as my public service of the day, I will once again tell Lykos and the Gang Who Couldn't Shoot Straight some tips on how to improve morale.  I'm sure I'll get a thank you note in the mail by Friday.

Tip # 1 --  Stop being so blatant about playing favorites.
You've had some folks there who have risen to supervisory roles without ever earning their stripes in the trenches.  Thus far, their only real skill set that they've mastered is kissing crony butt.  Case in point -- Rachel Palmer.  She's been Deputy Dawg in Misdemeanor for how freaking long now?  The Deputy Dawg position used to be one awarded to a prosecutor who had been a Felony Two for several years and had tried numerous murder and sex assault and robbery cases to juries.  They had the respect of the Misdemeanor folks because that earned it.  Did Rachel ever get around to trying her first murder?

Rachel, instead, is more known for being a Lykos-loyalist who is much more inclined to rat out a misdemeanor prosecutor for a screw up than try to back them up and help them learn from the mistakes.

Why don't you try to put a Senior Felony Two in there that the younger folks might actually respect?

Tip # 2 --  Use some of that Asset Forfeiture Money to hire some law students as paid interns
With the budget crunch and the resulting hiring freeze, the ADAs that you still have left are over-worked in a serious serious way.  You can't use Asset Forfeiture Money on salaries, but you can use it for contract employment.  Pay a law student who aspires to be a prosecutor $10 an hour to do "To Do's" while the prosecutors are in trial.  They can make RIP calls and pull offense reports.

Give your prosecutors a little breathing room.

Tip # 3 -- Make Leitner and the other upper-Admin Guys quit crawling up prosecutors' butts with a microscope
Letiner seems to have embraced the role of being the Vice Principal of the Office.  Last year, he and some other upper-echelon guys decided to start calling prosecutors up to the 6th floor and demanding they explain themselves for plea bargains that had happened months earlier.  And on small cases, too.

Good Lord, Jim, give it a rest.  Shouldn't you be working on managing the budget or something?  Or at least polishing up your belt-badge?  You going through old disposed cases just to find out if a prosecutor was too lenient eight months earlier does nothing but instill paranoia in the people you've got left.  Stop being a jackass.

Tip # 4 --  Repeat After Me "A prosecutor who earns comp time can do whatever the hell they want with it whenever the hell they want with it.  It is their comp time."
If a prosecutor has given up their weekends or their evenings to try to keep on top of the monumental amount of "To Dos" that have piled up, then let them take their freaking comp time whenever the hell they want to.  If they get back from a long day in docket and want to take an afternoon off, let them!  If they want to go home and take a nap or if they want to go drink a beer, that's their decision.

Stop making them fill out requests long in advance, and have to justify why they need it.

Tip # 5 --  Give your Chiefs and Division Chiefs the okay to sponsor social get-togethers, even if (gasp) alcohol is served.
Part of what makes any group stick together during hard times is a genuine affection for each other.  Promoting events where they all get together and unwind helps that.  Back in the old days, there used to be monthly office birthday parties over at St. Pete's Dancing Marlin (R.I.P.) and they would be well-attended.

Let John Jordan send an e-mail for an Office Happy Hour at 5:00 on a Thursday, instead of one that sounds dangerously close to "counting scalps".  And if people comp out at 4:00 to go early, don't give them a ration of crap about it.

Speaking of rations of crap, I'm sure that I will get plenty of it from Lykos supporters who will bring out the usual tired old accusations of saying all of us folks from the old administrations wanted to do was drink.  But the bottom line is that the Office is going through a tough time right now because of the budget.  But the job is still a good one.  Good people will stay through the tough times if you stop making the job miserable every chance you get.

If you don't understand that, then you don't understand leadership.

Then again, leadership was never the Gang Who Couldn't Shoot Straight's strongest point.

[UPDATE:  In cae you missed it, Brian Rogers did an article on "the Contest" in today's Chronicle.  The  readers' comments aren't too favorable to Lykos and the Gang."


Mark Bennett said...

I hear that Pat has Jim writing a legal memo on how she can fire you yet again.

Anonymous said...

I have defended Lykos on this blog again and again. I do think she has done some positive things but she has also made some crappy decisions and this is one of them. I thought there needed to be some more oversight than what their was under Chuck but the pendulum has swung way too far in the other direction.

This latest contest idea sounds much like Leitner's whale case idea. Maybe he just had John float it for him because John has a decent reputation with some. I don't care who is selling it, the idea sucks. The only thing good that will come from this idea is the hysterical title you've come up with in order to write about it. "Bowling for Convictions" is

Anonymous said...

John apparently did not get the memo, don't put anything in writing, oh, I know why he didn't get the memo, Lykos and gang do nothing in writing so there is no paper trail.

Anonymous said...


As of the writing of this comment Mark's website is down. Pat strikes again!!!!!!!



Anonymous said...

I know a lot of law students that would love to intern there, even if just for $10/hr. Once you have interned there and gotten credit for it, you cannot get credit hours for a second term. Essentially, if you enjoyed your first internship there and want to do a second, you get no compensation for the mandatory 10 wk full time gig.

Anonymous said...

We're only 1/2 way through the term of Lykos and it has already become this pathetic. WOW!!!!!!!How fucking scary 2 years from now will be!!!!!!I don't think even the Lykos haters ever thought Patsy could really be this bad and destructive this fast. Where is the media???????????????? This should be printed on the front page and be breaking news on all stations local and national.

Anonymous said...

I'm a citizen who has read both Mr. Bennett's and your blogs, now let me get this straight, a case that otherwise should be thrown out now goes to trial, a jury panel is taken from their life for how many days, costs are incurred trying the case and someone's life may be taken from them and their family so that someone can get an afternoon off or go bowling......REALLY? Lord Help Us All!

Anonymous said...

Can we expect the police and sheriffs departments to issue similar memos? First officer to bring in 12 DWI's in one shift gets the rest of the night off? First division to bust a crack house gets to go bowling and the first officer to round up 10 prostitutes can ride with the SWAT team...WOW...Houston won't have anymore Crime

Anonymous said...

Wow, these are actually real, constructive, simple improvements. Now, let's go find that 6th Floor comment box...

Anonymous said...

As a defense lawyer I see the memo as harmless. But I can see a few judges wanting to win this competition. It is absurd though the trouble prosecutors have to take comp time. If they work hard, long hours then let take a few hours off. What a crappy management style and complete lack of respect for employees. Jordan is simply trying to motivate prosecutors when the rest of the leaders don't seem to care.

Anonymous said...

To: All staff
From: Pat
Subject: Attitude change

The beatings will continue until morale improves.

Anonymous said...

I find this story extremely disturbing! The e-mail should be disseminated to the public immediately! Unbelievable.

Anonymous said...

Since Lykos doesnt give a darn about ADAs maybe the criminal lawyers association can organize some events. Happy Hour, softball, paintball or bowling on a Friday after lunch.

Changing topics, why does Leitner wear the badge on his belt? Is he a peace officer?

jigmeister said...

Can't wait for campaign season. Imagine the "DA" that has never tried a case offering incentives for trying cases. Jordon's heart is in the right place, but the competition needs to start with the 6th floor.

Anonymous said...

Actually suprised to see the Chron ran the story....shaking my head....

Anonymous said...

Anon 6:29,

The badge deludes Jimmy "Little Man" Leitner into thinking he is of normal stature.
Get him some platform shoes and maybe he'll ditch the belt badge.....nah he'll still be a pussy.

Anonymous said...

Anon 5:29,

you called it bro. pick 6 tonight.

Jason said...

Is there a reward for who takes the least number of charges at intake? It seems like intake doesn't want to take anything.

Plus those interns need to man up. I had an intern call me up and basically lie to me for an ADA. Poor kid when I showed him where his boss was full of it he had nowhere to go!

Anonymous said...

Murrary, these are great suggestions, but it is much worse than even you know. It is so bad that Rachel Palmer is actually one of the more reasonable people in power. I was no RP fan, but I have to grudgingly admit that she has had misdemeanor ADA's backs a surprising number of times, and is infinitly more level headed and reasonable than JK. Really, it is a sad commentary that the admin is so bad that RP looks pretty good.

What the admin doesn't get, and is refusing to listen to people about, is that the low trial numbers are a DIRECT result of their policies. Requiring low level ADAs to write memos when they lose routine cases, hassling prosecutors over routine plea offers, and dramatically understaffing the courts are the reasons that prosecutors now lack BOTH time and incentive to try cases that they could possibly plea or dismiss. True long-term fatigue has set in, and justice is suffering as a result.

Although much has been said on this blog about the number of ADAs who have left, and the lack of any new hires, one thing that hasn't been talked about is how this admin has rearranged the office so it is even more top-heavy than before. There is a TON of redundancy, in a time of dire ADA shortages. For example, the admin has a very top-heavy child abuse division, with the chiefs handling many fewer cases than the 2's. Then there are spots such as the "section chief" of white collar, who comstantly conflicts and overlaps with the "division chief" of financial crimes, who was in white collar for years and really runs the division. And of course, the creation of an extra deputy dog position. All of this adds up to more people who don't handle any real number of cases, but simply serve to second-guess those who do. Unfortunately, admin keeps making these special spots, for friends or long-time veterans, and then can't really move them back to the trenches, where the help is so desperately needed.

--Disappointed DA

Zachary Fertitta said...

This is just one more brilliant idea from one who has NEVER tried a criminal case. I think finally the public is starting to see the cracks.

Anonymous said...

Murray what's the over and under on when John Jordon gets thrown under the Lykos bus?

the party's just begun said...


ADA#1: Patsy I'll take DWIs for $500.00

Patsy: A crackhead smokes all his crack and then gets hammered on Jack and Coke passes out behind the wheel and is arrested. If the offense occurred in Harris County the likely result would be_____.

ADA#1: What is Divert?

Patsy: That's correct, Snookems. Maybe we can have a cocktail after the show and we'll make Little Jimmy drive.

ADA#2: Patsy I'll take Kiddy Porn for $200.00

Patsy: Jim and Roger are walking in Memorial Park......

What a joke your old office has become, Murry.

Anonymous said...

Do you how many "crap" cases are being filed everyday? Way too many. ADA's are afraid to dismiss them because they don't won't to end up on 6 explaining why. Better screening maybe? Afraid not to file? End up on 6 again. "He said she said" cases and other poor cases reset and reset while defendant sits in jail. Can't try because no good evidence, but afraid of 6. Too many dismissals and no promotion and bad evaluation. Keeping ADA stats have no business being used in a measure. Like a ticket quota used by PD's. Guess the new bowling shirts will be cancelled....

Anonymous said...

The comp time restrictions have been some of the worst for morale in the trenches, where everyone is already maxed out on comp time.

I have no idea what that policy was supposed to accomplish -- making grown adults justify going to the dentist after working all weekend. Let's call it what it is. Working for free.

Luci Davidson said...

I was going to keep my mouth shut, but, you know me, impossible. I have to weigh in here. I supervised John Jordan for a long time. He is a good man. This "competition" thingy, albeit stupid and not well thought out,was only to do something to raise morale. John cares about that office and the people that work there. I was the misdemeanor division chief for a time. Those "babies" love their jobs. Trying cases and having discretion is what motivates and keeps them alive. Lykos and her crew have taken all of that away. I can't imagine working my butt off as many hours that I did having to fill out form after form or ask person after person just to burn a couple of hours of comp. In the older days, we went round and round with Don Stricklin about this. If he had had his way, we would have worked 24/7 without pay while he sat in his little ivory tower on the 2nd floor, with his little 1st Assistant pay, county car and parking spot. Things are different now. At least Don knew we loved the job and left us alone to decide what was right and what was wrong about the disposition of cases. He understood the job. No more. This administration wants to control everything, anything and everyone. That is a true sign of bad leadership. Chuck was a total disgrace as a leader. I admit that. But, through all of his faults, and he has many, he recognized that and left us alone to do our jobs. And, our jobs was what we were doing. Sadly, this administration won't let them do their jobs. This is not elementary school, middle school or high school, boys and girls. This is an organization that employs hundreds of lawyers....adults, if you will. These are lawyers that have been hired to do a job. Maybe if you Pat, Jim, Roger or Hannah would get your lazy butts to a courtroom and earn your pay, you might earn some respect from the people that work for you. You might even understand that using discretion and doing the right thing might just be hard on a daily basis, but you can do it, if given the opportunity without unlimited rules. The people you employ are not children! It is time to quit treating them as such and let them do their jobs. The HDCAO has already been destroyed. You can't make it worse. So, stop trying. You trashed us all while you campaigned, you won, you took an oath, and now it is time to stop and do your job before you disillusion more people into leaving public service. I am a tax payer too, and you work for me!

Anonymous said...

For years the HCDAO attracted and employed highly qualified applicants, notwithstanding the compensation offered. This was due, in no small part, to the opportunity to litigate immediately after law school and the significant independence associated with the position. It is quite probable that the HCDAO still attracts those applicants; however, it is more probable though as law school graduates become more aware of the maelstrom that exists under this seemingly disconcerted adminstration that a desire to seek employment there, even in this abysmal economy, will cease. Only a few short years ago the only limitations imposed on the prosecutor were those set out in the Prosecutor's Discretion Manual authored by senior staff members. "Comp Time" was approved without question; the only caveat for the time sheets was accuracy. Prosecutors were not paraded to the Sixth Foor (2nd Floor at 201 Fannin) to justify trial results. There was an informal competition though, that being to advance to district court chief by demonstrating sufficient trial skills for the position. Therefore, apparently authored with the best of intentions because of the current morose in the HCDAO, the subject memorandum is demeaning to a professional staff, a staff that this adminstration is apparently turning into skittish and obedient sheep.
Calvin A. Hartmann

Anonymous said...

A tid bit off topic....Ahem...what's with all these H.E.B. Check cases? Do they use tele-check or run the checks back through. Just seems like the Criminal Courthouse is a collection agency for this ONE retailer statistically. Jeff Ross, or John Boone...any answers?

Anonymous said...

When did Rachel try her first murder? A long time ago, and she is willing to and does back her prosecutors (I am/was there).

Anonymous said...

I especially like #5. More hypocritical, self-righteous, callous prosecutors need to caught drinking and driving and spend at least a night in jail.

A Harris County Lawyer said...

Anon 10:39 a.m.,

Don't be a schmuck.

Drinking and driving isn't against the law. Driving while Intoxicated is. Maybe you are a lightweight and can't do one without the other, but I've seen plenty of prosecutors enjoy a drink or two and then drive home quite legally fine.

And just because they are prosecutors, having a drink doesn't make them hypocrites.

Anonymous said...

For anon 10:39...I'd rather see Murray or another prosecutor enjoying a margarita at Ninfas or a Beer at Woodrows then listen to a previcator with a hangover saying he doesn't drink.

Anonymous said...

I feel so bad for JJ. Obviously, he meant well. Misdemeanor is suffering, and at least he was trying.

He has, what, 50 ADAs for 15,000 open cases? Some of those babies have been misdemeanor 3s for years.

Of course there's no morale. The old administration had its faults, but it was never THAT thin, and you certainly weren't a career misdemeanor 3.

Anonymous said...

Jeopardy with Patsy:

ADA: Patsy I will take Society's Best Interest for $500?

Pastsy: What is more dangerous for society, misdemeanor amounts of marijuana or trace crack cocaine offenders?

ADA: What is marijuana?

Patsy: You are correct. Those darn hippies are poisoning our voting base. The crackheads don't vote, they just rob, steal and murder.

Anonymous said...

Jeopardy with Lykos:

Topic: Rachel Palmer

Patsy: Rachel Palmer is considered the most powerful prosecutor under the Lykos regime because __________?

ADA: What is Don Hooper?

Patsy: Correct. This should be a lesson to all ADAs. It is not difficult to find a special place in my wallet.. I mean heart.

Anonymous said...

Jeopardy with Lykos:

Topic: Jim Lietner for $1000.00.

Patsy: Did you say $1,0000.00?

ADA: Yes.

Patsy: Correct.

ADA: You didn't ask me a question.

Patsy: Oh, sorry, I thought the question on the table was how much would you have to donate to have his position.

ADA: Oh.

Patsy: Well c'mon. You know that I treat him like a 5 dollar whore on a daily basis. I thought $1,000.00 was generous.

Anonymous said...

Jeopardy with Lykos

ADA: Investigators for $200.00

Patsy: What is the most important skill you should look for when promoting or hiring a new investigator?

ADA: Photograph. Ability to take pictures of you and somehow make you look just old and not evil.

Patsy: Correct. Isn't he great.

Anonymous said...

The other thing that Hannah, the rocket scientist, Chow has yet to figure out is that you could use forfeiture funds for non salary operating cost to free up more money for salaries. Jesus is it really that hard? By the time they figure that out the legislature will have raided the forfeiture and check funds of all counties to make up for the budget shortfall.

As for Rachel, no doubt she will be the next district court chief, not having handled a felony case in 26 months.

God help those of us who pay taxes.

Anonymous said...

Jeopardy with Lykos

Blue Hair Republican Voter: Politics for all of the marbles.

Patsy: What do I have to tell you next time to be re-elected?

Blue Hair Republican Voter: Are the following true: 1) morale is high at HCDAO, 2)senior prosecutors have not left in droves, 3)HCDAO follows the current law for DWI and small quantities of cocaine cases, 4) hirings are based only on merit, 5) money has not been expended for remodeling the office in this bad economy, 6) a personal driver has not been assigned to you, 7) you do not criticize employees in the press, and 8) you have personally prosecuted a capital murder case (or any case)?

Patsy: Uh, oh.

Anonymous said...

I wonder if you think about the damage you're doing to people who are just trying to function - like J. - in a difficult environment.

If you must tell these stories, you could do it without mentioning names.

You could say, "A misd chief..." or whatever.

You could still fulfill your goal of telling the story without frying those who are just trying to do the best they can.

A Harris County Lawyer said...

Anon 1:32 p.m.,

The damage that I am doing? Seriously?

First of all, the discretion I've shown over the years running this blog has always erred on the side of cautious. I never have and I never will drop a rank and file prosecutor in the grease. I also never publish anything about people's personal or sexual lives (which people from the top to the bottom can thank me for later).

I love John like a brother. We started out together and we still keep in touch. But he signed his name to a memo that spread like wild fire through the defense community and his name was all over it.

I think if you go back and read this post, you will see that his name was already all over the internet by the time I wrote this. And, I tried to point out that although the idea of the contest was ill-advised, you couldn't blame John for trying to generate a morale maker of some sort.

John is a welcome change to the Misdemeanor Division from his, uh "nameless predecessor" (is that better?). Mark will tell you that, and any defense attorney will tell you that, as well.

If you want to look at true "damage" to that office, blame the 6th floor. Not the people that report on what the 6th floor does.

Anonymous said...

I believe Pat Lykos had a part in the Wizard of Oz. Wasn't she the Wicked Witch of the West?

Anonymous said...

A bit off topic, but why are there now two deputy division chiefs in misd, when the HCDAO is facing a serious lack of personnel and funding? The deputy division chief's primary responsibility used to be the coordination of hiring interviews. Since the HCDA isn't hiring, a deputy division chief isn't needed at all. So why are there now two of them.

And when is Rachel Palmer going to be sent back to a real position. She doesn't have to do shit now, and she'll likely be chief. When was the last time she tried a case (a felony case)?

Anonymous said...

Wasn't Pat Lykos in the movie known as the wizard of oz? Didn't she play the part of The Wicked Witch of the West?

Anonymous said...

Thank you for a very interesting commentary for a "view into the prosecutor's world"! Sadly, I find it very scary as a family member is trying to defend/protect himself against their foot- dragging prosecution(torment). Now I understand why the reluctance to dismiss/reduce a first time charge. Sad, very sad for all involved Defendants/families/jurors/taxpayers. Huge waste of time and money.
Like others have said, This is NOT a game. This is someone's life.

Anonymous said...

Things were dangerous to the citizens of Harris County under Chuck because there was not enough oversight and now we have too much. This seems to be a problem of over correction. Don't be fooled into thinking the office was better for Harris County just because the ADA's used to be happier. There are commenters on this very post who played the favorites game just as our current snookems does. Her choices ran along gender lines rather than Patsy's economic ones but the favoritism was just as devisive. We need a candidate who is not from the old or current regime. Is there a chance Madgison will run?

Anonymous said...

If Kenny wasn't such a pussy he'd run as a Dem and hope Obama got a second wind. Lykos only beat Bradford because the poor sum bitch was that bad. We need a strong democratic candidate as well as a republican in case Lykos swings another repub. runoff and the clueless blue hairs carry the day.

Anonymous said...

Lykos was the third flying monkey from the left in the Wizard of Oz.